Friday, August 29, 2008

Gustav - Friday morning update

After tracking along or over the south coast of Jamaica all day yesterday, Tropical Storm Gustav now sits just over the western tip of the island, still barely below hurricane strength, but with an excellent satellite presentation and plenty of warm water ahead. Gustav is still forecasted to become a major hurricane sometime over the next two days - the NHC is calling explicitly for rapid intensification for the first time this morning (a bold step for those who may not follow NHC forecast discussions that regularly) - and although the steering currents have become a bit more complicated due to Gustav's longer than expected trek through the Caribbean islands (adding uncertainty again to the forecast track), Gustav is still forecasted to make landfall on Tuesday somewhere on the Louisiana coast as a major category 3 hurricane. My personal forecast is still for landfall somewhere from the TX/LA border to Grand Isle, LA.

Preparations continue here in New Orleans. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (who seems to be taking the lead locally - not hearing much from Ray Nagin) met yesterday in Baton Rouge with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the FEMA director, both of whom came in from Washington to assist in the preparations. Plans are also underway to begin mandatory evacuations for some of the lower parishes today, and start contraflow to evacuate New Orleans tomorrow (Saturday). Up to 700 buses - enough to evacuate 35,000 people (more than were in the Superdome during Katrina) - are being prepositioned around the city and state, and what I've been hearing is that the goal is to have as few as possible people in shelters in the city during the storm. Buses will run from staging areas in the city to pre-defined points northward - in Shreveport and in Tennessee - not in a haphazard fashion as in Katrina. But Louisiana national guard resources are still strained due to commitments in Iraq, and the proposed evacuation - an unprecedented dual contraflow involving south-central Louisiana AND the New Orleans metro area using the same roads at the same time - involving about 3 million people in total -- would be more than double the size of the evacuation for Katrina (which was the largest, most ambitious evacuation in US history). We can only hope that all this planning will be carried out in an effective way, and that the people of Louisiana, who have been through so much, will stay safe. At least we're experienced this time.

Gustav as of 5am this morning.

Megan and I went for a drive yesterday afternoon in the direction of Houma on US-90. Stopping for gas on the way back, the station we chose was already out of regular and mid-grade at most of its 12 pumps, with only premium left. Talking with our neighbor last night (who waited until the last minute to evacuate his family for Katrina), he already had his box of food and water ready by the door and had sent his wife to fill up their car as we were talking. One of our elderly neighbors already left yesterday morning, and most other people I talked to were thinking of leaving today - to try and beat the traffic that everyone is anticipating on Saturday. As my neighbor said, "you can get a new house and new stuff, but you can't get a new life." I think people here are very aware of that fact this time.

When we picked up the mail yesterday afternoon, there was a colorful 20-page brochure published by the local National Weather Service office here in Slidell titled "2008 Southeast Louisiana Hurricane Guide" full of evacuation tips and procedures, what to do with your pets when a hurricane strikes, and even artwork from local children following the aftermath of Katrina. I assume (hopefully) that this brochure was distributed to all of Orleans parish yesterday - in timing with the arrival of Gustav. Good work by whoever was responsible. As our neighbor mentioned last night, it seems like everyone here is more ready this time - paying close attention to the forecasts and getting as prepared as possible in advance. also has some great resources for those of you planning your own evacuation. Check the sidebar on the story referenced above.

My flight out is at 2pm this afternoon - and Megan is thinking of driving to her sister's in Pensacola tonight. We'll be out fine. Let's hope everyone else is too, and that we'll have our beautiful city to return to next week.

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